The Lair of King Crow
(Part five of a seven part series)
By Hunter Liguore
The fire was growing dim, when I awoke. Amelia had collected dried roots and was placing them one by one on the fire. When she saw me stir, she reached her hand out to me and smiled. She spoke first, “This is one of the birth chambers. It’s meant to be in complete darkness. If you look close enough you’ll see the curvature of the wall, meant to simulate the womb. From here, it’s a short distance to the final step.”
I asked Amelia to tell me all about the forty-fifth step. I knew somehow the final step had to be the key to all the otherworldly occurrences. “I can’t believe I’m admitting to the supernatural.” I smiled, assumedly. “It goes against everything I believe. I keep hoping at any minute someone will jump out from behind a rock and tell me it’s all been a big joke.”
“I felt the same way for a good year, and then after awhile survival kicks in, and you realize you’re on your own.” Amelia sighed and then pulled out her notebook to the pages she wrote about the final step. “I don’t have much. It happened so quickly, and it was quite a long time ago for me. It was exactly how Rockwell described it. There are several pathways for the initiate to choose from. I remember following the circular swirls on the sandy floor. Then I saw the big opening marked with hundreds of glyphs. I went to the edge and looked over. I was frightened at the thought of going over, and wondered how an initiate did it. No sooner did I have this thought, when something pushed me over the edge. I tried to look back, but saw nothing. I fell through beams of colored light for what felt like an eternity, and when I came out the other end, I was in a glorious chamber with food and wine. No people.”
“This must’ve been the celebration room,” I offered.
“Yes, I had made it through the initiation and received my reward.” She glanced over to me, her eyes saddened. “Somehow I knew after that there was no way back. As if I had crossed over into a cataclysm of time, or something unexplainable, and I’d never return. I gave up on finding you.”
The walls started to rumble and creak from deep within. “The walls will change soon,” she said. “Don’t leave me.”
I held her close, kissing her forehead. “I won’t.” We sat close, listening to the scraping, whining sound of the heavy blocks moving. “It’s like we’re in a Pandora’s box,” she whispered, shaking.
“Ah, yes,” I said, “but then we still have hope to even things out.”
The fire went out from a gust of wind that came out of nowhere. I blocked the sand and dust from my eyes, not realizing I let go of Amelia. I felt the floor beneath me turn, and wind downward, like I was on the head of a screw being drilled into the earth. I called out for Amelia, and glancing upward, seeing her reaching out for me at the top of the hole. “Theodore,” she yelled. I saw her attempt to jump down to me, but the disk moved rapidly through the earth. Dirt, stone, and red beetles, the size of tennis balls, flew at me, as I whizzed by, and then finally, with a loud crash, it stopped. The force knocked me off and onto a metal disc at the base of an ascending gold stairway.
Before I could get my bearing, I heard the sound of metal clapping together. When I looked at the hole, coming from it was thousands of red beetles. The clapping sound was their bodies hitting upon one another. They swarmed the area, forcing me up the stairs. They covered the walls and ceiling, and everything I could see. I wasn’t ready to face the final step, and tried to pull back against the wall. I even tried firing at them with my remaining ammunition. I had no choice but to give in, and climb, when a voice called out.
“This way!” A man about my age and height was waving to me from a cave opening, one I hadn’t seen to my right. He ran out with a fire torch, touching it to the ground, burning the beetles. They screeched and dispersed in the opposite direction, giving me a clear path to him.
He led me up a ramp to a small room that had the feel of an attic. The beetles followed, but he managed to light a rope across the threshold to keep them at bay.
“The beetles have one purpose,” he said, keeping watch. “To get you up those stairs, and until you do they won’t rest.” He handed me the torch and told me to look after the threshold, as he searched for something flammable to throw at the opening.
“Can’t we just keep running?” I asked, poking the beetles that made it over the fire; the smell of burnt insects filled the air.
“No, they’ll hunt you until you submit. They’ll cover your body and then sting you with a sedative, then drag you up the stairs. It’s not a pretty sight.”
The man built up a good fire, from one end of the attic opening to the other, out of flammable pottery and dried roots and stepped back, allowing me a view of his face. I knew undoubtedly that I was looking at the man responsible for my being there, my mentor from the past—John Rockwell.
We introduced ourselves and I filled him in briefly on the past hundred years, including the finding of his skeleton. Surprisingly, he didn’t take the news badly. In fact, he seemed more interested in my well-being.
“I’ve been waiting for the next person to pass this threshold, hoping, just hoping I could set things right.” Rockwell was a handsome man, a bit younger than me, but not much older than the last picture ever taken of him in 1847.
“The lair is all that you said it was and more.” I offered, still slightly star-struck.
“I had it all wrong. All of it.” He swatted his long bangs out of his eyes. His Scottish accent was thick. “Do you know about the forty-fifth step?”
“Yes, I know what you wrote in the last pages.” I gave him a few of the key details that came quick to my memory.
He made a disgruntled noise of dissatisfaction, throwing his hands in the air. “No, no, not those pages. I rewrote them. I left them near the entrance. Surely someone would’ve found them by now.”
“We found no new pages,” I explained. “The forty-fifth step has been the world’s biggest unexplained anomaly.”
“It’s a curse,” he spat. “I wish I never found it.”
“Surely, it’s the pinnacle of the initiate ceremony, the finale.” I reiterated the details of the rites as I remembered them. “I’m certain I’ll find my way out of the lair after I pass through.”
“No, no,” he said, aggravated with me, as if I was a child making the same mistake over and over. “The final step is all wrong, it’s not the way. It never was.” He took a stone from the floor and hurried to the wall. He scratched out a big circle and some stairs. “When you get to the top of the stairs, you’ll see the drop off, here.” He tapped the wall. “But that’s the deception, the last great deception.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Isn’t the entire point of the ritual to jump into the unknown?”
“No, no, no,” he yelled, scribbling a doorway on the wall. “Here, over here,” he shouted. “This is the real doorway, the true path of the initiate. It’s hard to see. Only a true initiate could.” He talked with his hands. “If you don’t make it through those doors, man, then it’s lost for all of us. Every time someone falls into the portal, it gives the lair strength, causing it to shift and to expand to an even greater degree. The trick,” he repeated, “is to go through these doors.” He pointed, stepping back, “or at least that’s the only way I can see it. There has to be some type of change to occur that’ll reset this puzzle, setting us all free.”
“If what you say is correct, that would mean none of the Crow people ever made it through the right door.” His thoughts didn’t jive with research I had done, and I felt kind of odd challenging him, especially since he was so certain.
He stared at the wall. “Perhaps that’s why the Mayans became extinct.”
The fire crackled and the debris fell over, causing a gap that let a plethora of beetles into the room. They fell upon us instantly. I dropped to the ground as they spun around me like a web. I felt their little stingers dig into my skin, and the burning venom seep into my flesh. “Rockwell,” I called. He had used the torch to fight them off, but couldn’t reach me. I found myself being carried out of the chamber, and just as I lost conscious, I yelled, “What was your warning? Beware of what?”
He yelled to me, swinging his torch, moving further away from me. “Beware the King crob! Perhaps it’s the missing link!”
I fought to keep my eyes open, as they carried me up the stairs, spiraling like a single strand of DNA, higher and higher. I may’ve lost consciousness. Then I felt cold stone beneath me, and the beetles retreated. In front of me was an altar to the Crow Goddess. Her image, the body of a woman, the head of a crow, was portrayed on the wall over the altar, where candles were lit.
I stood and took in my surroundings. The stone turned to sand beneath my steps. I saw the swirling patterns going every which way, like Amelia related, and I searched for the second door. I had to find it. I had to get through it. Maybe in some way, Rockwell was right, and it would make everything right again. Maybe we’d all be free.
My instinct still led me to the black opening ahead. I felt a draft of air. Every bit of me needed to satiate my curiosity and look over the edge into the abyss. I had spent my entire life thinking about what lay over the rim. Endless hours of research I spent deciding, based on what little evidence I had, what happened next, and now, now I didn’t know anything. Everything had changed. It was up to me to decide our fate. I could leap off, as I believed, or I could search for the other door, one other possible solution.
I heard something behind me, a squeaking noise, like a door that needed oiling. I stepped back from the edge, when something came at me, something giant and rough. My feet started to slide as I tried to grip it; my hands slipped off the slick surface, and before I could find another recourse, my body was flung over the side into the burning light.
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Hunter Liguore holds a BA in History and is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing. She enjoys writing in different genres, and even more so mixing genres, rather than limiting herself to one. Her work has appeared in diverse publications, including, "Katie Ireland," in Miranda Literary Magazine, "Piece," in Terra Incognito, and "The Wizard of Peillon," forthcoming in Mirror Dance. If you would like to follow Hunter Liguore on her journey around the world in thirty stories and thirty genres, visit: http://www.theworldinthirtystories.com
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